The past year offered a chance to celebrate the past and make progress toward the future while continuing to impact the lives of students and the wider community today through education and outreach. (Photos by August Jennewein, Derik Holtmann and Patrick Clark)
UMSL celebrates its past while building for the future during eventful 2023

by | Dec 25, 2023

The university continued to impact the lives of students and people in the broader community while marking its 60th anniversary.
UMSL celebrates its past while building for the future during eventful 2023

by | Dec 25, 2023

The university continued to impact the lives of students and people in the broader community while marking its 60th anniversary.

The University of Missouri–St. Louis marked 60 years of service to the St. Louis region, the state of Missouri and beyond in 2023. That’s 60 years of expanding educational access and opportunity for students regardless of their backgrounds, 60 years of driving economic growth, and 60 years of assisting the community with impactful research and outreach.

“UMSL’s mission is the same now as it was 60 years ago as we continue to align with the needs of the region and state to transform lives through higher education,” Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said this August in her annual State of the University Address.

As UMSL Daily looks back at 2023, it’s clear the university isn’t slowing down at meeting its purpose, and it is taking a major step toward the future with a campus transformation now well underway. Here are some of the top stories from the past year.

January

Game On: St. Louis CITY SC, UMSL to partner on esports and professional development education initiatives

St. Louis CITY SC Chief Revenue Officer Dennis Moore joins UMSL Chancellor Kristin Sobolik and CITY Correspondent Kristin Carver in holding up a scarf after announcing a new partnership between the St. Louis soccer club and the university

St. Louis CITY SC and UMSL entered a dynamic new partnership to grow the next generation of esports players and fans and unite the two STLMade brands in programming designed to foster professional development by expanding UMSL’s sport management offerings.

Students, faculty, staff and community members packed the lower level of the Millennium Student Center on Jan. 19 for a spirited event unveiling the new collaboration. They cheered loudly as Dennis Moore, then the chief revenue officer for St. Louis CITY SC, made the announcement.

“UMSL is now the official higher education partner of St. Louis CITY SC,” Moore said. “We will work together to build the St. Louis CITY/UMSL Sport Management Program, and UMSL is the new presenting partner of our club’s esports program.”

The St. Louis CITY SC/UMSL Sport Management Program expands upon UMSL’s current curriculum for the Bachelor of Science in Sport Management and will foster the next generation of sporting professionals. READ MORE

More notable reads from January:

 

February

Business major Alexander Orywall joins friends in launching Tritons Football Club

Tritons Football Club president Alexander Orywall holds a soccer ball in the foreground while other club members stand behind him in the background

Chances are Alexander Orywall can be found on Friday evenings at the indoor soccer field at the Recreation and Wellness Center.

Orywall, now a junior majoring in business management, has made a habit of kicking off the weekend by gathering with friends, including Trey Roettering and Josh Heisserer, at 5 p.m. for friendly games of soccer – a sport for which they all share a great affinity.

It started as just a fun way to unwind from the stresses of the week, but at some point last semester, they decided to formalize their routine under the banner of the Tritons Football Club and, in addition to playing pickup games and fielding a team in intramurals, they started holding watch parties for some of the matches in the 2022 World Cup. By the end of the semester, they’d submitted paperwork to be recognized as an official student organization, and they received approval on Jan. 4.

The club’s formation happened amid rising attention to the game in the Gateway City with MLS team St. Louis CITY SC, which marked its inaugural season. READ MORE

More notable reads from February:

 

March

Christian Okeke, a self-taught cellist, pursuing music degree at UMSL

Young black male sits on chair playing the cello on stage with his back to the empty auditorium.

Christian Okeke was 19 the first time he ever saw a cello when his friend took him to a classical concert at a Catholic church in his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria. He was so enthralled by the instrument that he decided to learn how to play it.

The problem was that there were no music teachers nearby, so he decided to teach himself. He met a cellist who allowed him to come practice on his instrument and would walk several miles to play for a few hours at time, teaching himself by reading the book, “A Tune a Day – Cello.”

Now, eight years later, Okeke is a sophomore at UMSL studying music with acclaimed cellist and music professor Kurt Baldwin. READ MORE

More notable reads from March:

April

UMSL graduate Lucy Grimshaw earns Fulbright scholarship to further her passion for social justice abroad

Lucy Grimshaw

In early March, Lucy Grimshaw was on a Zoom call discussing her next steps with her mentor, Pierre Laclede Honors College Dean Ed Munn Sanchez, when she received an email that would change the course of her career.

Grimshaw, who graduated from UMSL in 2022 with dual degrees in public policy administration and social work and also received an Honors certificate, was feeling less than optimistic. She had recently completed the intensive process of applying to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for the second time in two years and, after not hearing back about an interview in February, believed she was out of the running once again.

Munn Sanchez encouraged Grimshaw to stay hopeful and wait just a few more days to hear back – perhaps they were just running behind. But Grimshaw was steadfast in her resolution: she was not being selected, and she needed to start making other plans.

As fate would have it, an email then popped up, letting Grimshaw know she had been selected for an interview. Overjoyed, she spent the next two weeks preparing, reviewing her personal statement, and conducting mock interviews with family and friends. Ultimately, on March 27 she received word that she had been selected for a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in the Department of Sociology and Center for Criminology at the University of Manchester. READ MORE

More notable reads from April:

 

May

Spring 2023 Commencement: A joyous weekend

The UMSL campus community celebrated more than 2,700 graduates during the 2023 calendar year, including more than 1,700 who took part in commencement ceremonies in May.

Among the graduates were optometry graduate Jacob Travis, who made his mark with his humanitarian work in Kansas City and Alaska during his time at UMSL; DeNae Howard, who grew her cookie business while earning her bachelor’s degree in accounting; criminology and criminal justice major Hayden Steingruby, who entered the St. Louis Police Academy with plans to return to school to pursue a PhD; Student Government Association President Sydney Stark, who headed to law school after earning degrees in criminology and criminal justice and Spanish; physics graduate Emily Sigmund, who started a PhD in medical physics at Washington University in St. Louis; and history major Elijah Braswell, who a month earlier won election as the youngest member of the board of aldermen in his hometown of Valley Park, Missouri.

UMSL campus photographer Derik Holtmann captured some of the joyous scenes from spring commencement. READ MORE

More notable reads from May:

 

June

UMSL breaks ground on new Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center

A group of people don hard hats and shovel dirt during a ceremonial groundbreaking

Faculty, staff, alumni, students and supporters gathered in Alumni Circle on June 7 to mark the start of construction on the new Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center.

The new 31,000-square-foot center will connect to the J.C. Penney Conference Center and is intended to serve as the gateway to UMSL for prospective students and their families while also providing a permanent home for the university’s more than 112,000 alumni.

“The Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center will be a place to welcome students into the often-confusing world of higher education while simultaneously giving those who’ve already experienced its transformative power a place to return to and give back,” Sobolik said as she addressed a crowd of about 100 people, some of them spilling out from under the shade of a tent on the warm afternoon. READ MORE

More top reads from June:

 

July

Alumni Stephanie Cernicek and Aaron Golchert lead Mana Supply Company, a fast-growing cannabis manufacturing startup

Stephanie Cernieck and Aaron Golchert of Mana Supply Company

When Stephanie Cernicek was finishing up her PhD in chemistry at UMSL in 2017, she assumed that, like many of her classmates, she’d head into the pharmaceutical industry upon graduation. But, as luck would have it, the owner of BeLeaf’s Life Oils reached out to the department chair looking for someone who could help extract hemp for the company’s infused tinctures.

Missouri had recently passed a bill allowing those licensed through the state’s Department of Agriculture to grow hemp and convert it into CBD oil strictly for use by people with intractable epilepsy. Along with Noah’s Ark Foundation, which now operates in the cannabis industry as Mana Supply Company, BeLeaf was one of two companies in Missouri to receive this license. Cernicek interviewed for the position and wound up getting it.

“It was a very, very narrow bill – we probably had a couple hundred patients, if that,” Cernicek said. “But it was sort of the jumpstart, a pre-emptive to a cannabis program in the state.”

Over the years, Cernicek has become a prominent name in Missouri’s cannabis industry, from the early days of CBD all the way up to the legalization of adult-use marijuana earlier this year. She serves on multiple boards of various organizations within the industry, has several different certifications and works as a faculty member in Saint Louis University’s Cannabis Science and Operations certificate program.

For the past few years, Cernicek has worked as the chief science officer at Mana Supply Co., a multi-state cannabis company with a manufacturing facility located in Berkeley, Missouri. Cernicek came to Mana just a month after fellow UMSL alum Aaron Golchert, who now serves as the company’s vice president of sales. READ MORE

More notable reads from July:

 

August

Patient Care Center’s renovated second floor features cutting-edge teaching labs, study nooks and lounge spaces for optometry students

Patient Care Center second floor

When students in the College of Optometry returned to campus in August, they found a brand-new space to study, practice for exams and commune with their classmates.

UMSL completed a months-long renovation of the second floor of the Patient Care Center, which now serves as the main hub of clinical lab education for the College of Optometry. The roughly 14,000-square-foot space features teaching labs and study and lounge spaces, and serves more than 170 students in the program.

With four new lab spaces boasting room for 30 students in each lab, students can now engage in pre-clinical training in the same building as their in-person training at the University Eye Center downstairs.

“I’m extremely excited about our new clinical training spaces on the second floor of the Patient Care Center,” Dean Keshia Elder said. “These new spaces will be transformative for the College of Optometry. The College of Optometry has a robust didactic and clinical training program; however, now the spaces that we train in will mirror the education that our students receive.” READ MORE

More notable reads from August:

September

UMSL community gathers to celebrate 60th anniversary of the university’s founding

Chancellor Kristin Sobolik and Louie the Triton cut the Cake at the Red & Gold Day Celebration

A mix of students, faculty and staff members had already started trickling into the lower level of the Millennium Student Center on the morning of Sept. 15 when Mindy Dilley picked up the microphone to officially kick off the celebration.

“It’s now 9:30, it’s UMSL’s birthday, and we’re excited,” said Dilley, the associate director of student involvement, as she hit play on a mix of music that began with Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.”

As the playlist continued through other familiar hits such as “Happy,” “Walking on Sunshine” and “Celebration,” the crowd continued to grow, filling the space adorned with red and gold balloons.

 

Members of the Chancellor’s Council eventually arrived to join in the festivities, and by 10 a.m., all eyes turned to Sobolik standing on stage behind a cake decorated with UMSL’s 60th anniversary logo.

“We are so excited to celebrate the 60th anniversary of our favorite university, the University of Missouri–St. Louis,” the chancellor said. “This is UMSL Red & Gold Day. I’m Chancellor Kristin Sobolik, and I tell you, I’m so pleased that you came out to support your university just like you do each and every day.” READ MORE

More notable reads from September:

 

October

Triton esports unveils inaugural varsity team, marks grand opening of new arena

Varsity and junior varsity members of the Triton esports program gather on stage during a signing ceremony on Oct. 26

One by one, they climbed onto the stage and signed their names into the book resting on the lectern.

When they put the pen back down, Bovey Zhang – the inaugural coach of the Triton esports program – was waiting to hand each new player a box containing their uniform jerseys, and they walked over to Chancellor Kristin Sobolik to pose for pictures.

In all, 21 varsity players were officially welcomed into the Triton esports program on Oct. 26 during an invitation-only event that also served as the grand opening for the recently remodeled Triton Esports Arena on the ground floor of the Millennium Student Center.

“I’m just really happy,” said Joseph Lee, who had the honor of being the first player to sign on to the new program. “The little kid in me is excited that there’s some type of support at all. I’m a junior here at UMSL. I study criminal justice as my major, and when I first came here, I came for the sake of my professional career, what I want to study and what I want to do in the future. Gaming was kind of a side thing that I couldn’t really do much with because there was no backing, there was not much support. To have UMSL being willing to step in, have an esports team, support it and want us to do more with it, it feels great. It feels awesome.” READ MORE

More notable reads from October:

 

November

Supplying the fight: UMSL’s Addiction Science Team helps combat opioid epidemic in Missouri

MIMH packing parties

Anyone walking through the first floor of Stadler Hall can probably hear the friendly debates – often about pop-culture topics like Beyoncé or Hollywood actors – spilling out into the hallway. But it takes stepping inside to realize the real purpose and seriousness of what’s going on when UMSL’s Addiction Science Team gathers for one of its weekly packing parties.

Spread out on two sides of an old lab are stacks of pamphlets – one about the warning signs of opioid overdoses, another with myths and facts about medical-assisted treatments, still one more with ways to contact various treatment agencies.

There are also boxes of bag valve masks for assisting people with breathing when they’re experiencing an overdose event. They get pulled together with the pamphlets and stuffed into black drawstring backpacks, which are then packaged with doses of Narcan, the brand name for the overdose reversal medication naloxone. Another group at the back of the room is assembling small bags of fentanyl test strips with instructions for use.

These kits are an important tool as the team works to supply the ongoing battle against the opioid crisis in Missouri and reduce overdose deaths, which have been rising across the country over the past two decades. More than 109,000 occurred in 2022, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – roughly five times higher than the number of overdoses seen 20 years earlier. READ MORE

More notable reads from November:

 

December

UMSL Athletics, volunteers pitch in to create positive environment during Midwest Region Championship

The UMSL volleyball team celebrates the clinching point in their Midwest Region Championship victory over Ferris State as the crowd erupts behind them

All eyes were on the fourth-ranked University of Missouri–St. Louis volleyball team the first week of December as it hosted the Division II NCAA Midwest Region Tournament at the Mark Twain Athletic Center.

The Tritons put on a show for the weekend’s 1,000 spectators, dispatching eighth-seeded Missouri S&T, fifth-seeded Grand Valley State and second-seeded Ferris State to clinch the team’s second consecutive Midwest Region Championship and subsequently earn a spot in the national quarterfinals. They would go on to reach the national semifinals for the second straight year.

Behind the scenes, a team of UMSL Athletics staff members, student-athletes and student volunteers were working around the clock during the Midwest Region Tournament to ensure the three-day event ran smoothly.

Director of Athletics Lori Flanagan said the regional tournament was a considerable endeavor.

“Any time you put a bid in to host an NCAA regional championship, it’s a huge undertaking because you have to provide a fair opportunity for all eight teams coming in,” Flanagan said. “You have to have people very, very knowledgeable in what they’re doing. You just have no room for error. You have to get the coordination of every department on campus to help you, which includes campus police, custodians, food services, student life, facilities, maintenance, even the Triton Sound.” READ MORE

More notable stories from December:

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Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming
Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.